They are dressed in a color that does not go unnoticed, a fuchsia pink tone. They walk the streets of the Philippines waving flags wherever they go and stopping anyone willing to listen. Many are young or first-time voters, and some travel for hours to join campaign teams. For them, the presidential elections this Monday, May 9, will mark a before and after in the country.
Fear, repression and death in Duterte’s Philippines
“I want real change,” says Mariel Ramírez, 35, who will vote for the first time and is campaigning with others.
The impact that the pandemic has caused among the poorest, and the possibility that one of the most controversial families in the country – the Marcoses – will return to the presidency, have led her to act. “It is evident that a presidency [de Marcos] It would take the country to its lowest moment…”, comments Ramírez. “They are a family that is only dedicated to getting rich.”
There are only hours left until more than 67 million Filipinos vote for their next president in a hotly contested election. Ferdinand Marcos Jr – known as “Bongbong” or BBM and son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos – leads opinion polls despite his father’s known record of corruption and rights violations.
Leni Robredo and her army of nearly two million volunteers, known as Kakampinks (Pink Allies), are trying to stop the arrival of Marcos Jr. Robredo, a human rights lawyer who defends marginalized groups and is currently the vice president, is running second in the surveys at a considerable distance. With an election where online disinformation reigns supreme, supporters of it have launched a door-to-door campaign on an unusual scale.
Some residents of the depressed neighborhood of Sampaloc, in Manila, are receptive. Josie Loyola, 70, sits on her doorstep in the morning sun. She smiles as she watches the campaign members walk by. “She has a good heart, she has achieved many things,” says Loyola about Robredo. But she lowers her voice when talking about Marcos Jr: “It’s [un tipo] really questionable, with questionable integrity.”
Loyola is concerned about political instability, or that the martial law imposed by Marcos Sr. in 1972 will be repeated. During the nine years that martial law lasted, human rights violations reigned: 3,240 people were killed and tens of thousands were tortured and imprisoned, according to Amnesty International.
Loyola’s son, crouched over a bucket of soapy water, remains focused on cleaning his motorcycle. He says that he is undecided. Not everyone wants to talk. A few doors down is a house wallpapered with images of a smiling Marcos Jr. making a peace sign with his hand.
From exile to the elite
It has been 36 years since the People’s Power revolution ended 20 years of Marcos’ rule, forcing the family into exile. They fled by helicopter, taking with them a stash of items worth €14 million, including gold bars, cash that had just been printed and hundreds of pieces of jewellery. It was junk compared to the dirty money that had made the family rich. Some suggest that they had looted up to 9.3 billion euros.
Marcos Sr. died in 1989. The rest of the family got permission to return to the Philippines in the 1990s and have been slowly rebranding themselves ever since.
“Our move to democracy did not go through a transitional justice process, unlike other countries that have had political or civil conflict,” says Julio Teehankee, associate professor of Political Science and International Studies at De La Salle University in Manila. Instead, the Marcoses were welcomed by the powerful with open arms, says Teehankee. “The elites of society, those circles, welcomed them and treated them like celebrities.”
The family began to reestablish its position in politics and cement alliances. in 2016 Marcos Sr. was buried like a hero, with military honors on the recommendation of President Rodrigo Duterte. The survivors of Marcos were dismayed and warned about the whitewashing of history. Duterte’s daughter Sara is number two on Marcos Jr.’s ticket.
misinformation and lies
Analysts say the Philippine education system has failed to properly address a debate about the reality of the Marcos government. This has caused a knowledge gap, especially among the younger generations, something that Marcos Jr.’s campaign has exploited.
Social media accounts linked to the Marcoses, or accounts that support them, downplay the dictatorship and attempt to justify or even deny past abuses with disinformation. They present the Marcos years as a golden age, a time with a prosperous economy, in which infrastructure was developed, and in which there was peace and order. Human rights violations and kleptocracy are left aside.
Celica Inductivo, 35, lives across from Loyola. She is standing in front of a boiling pot, preparing food for her family. As the volunteers pass by, she says that she will vote for Marcos Jr.
During martial law there was nothing to fear if you were a decent citizen. That’s what his mother told him, who was a campaign volunteer for Marcos Sr. Inductive doesn’t think his son is corrupt and admires him for being above comments like that. “Despite so much criticism against BBM, as [la que le acusa de] thief, he doesn’t return them,” he says using the now-popular abbreviation for Bongbong Marcos.
They have criticized him for not attending presidential debates and for avoiding difficult questions from the press, such as not having paid taxes that, according to local informationcould amount to 3,700 million euros.
With the slogan “together we will resurface”, Marcos Jr has focused on a simple campaign message for unity and resurrecting a past greatness. “That is one of the biggest ironies of this year’s election. The political brand that has divided and polarized the most in the history of the country has appropriated a message of unity and hope”, says Teehankee.
Maybe it’s an easier message to sell. “The nostalgia of authoritarianism is very simplistic. If you’re frustrated and desperate enough, it’s easier to believe this than Robredo’s campaign speech, which calls on Filipinos to confront the country’s problems and help find solutions,” adds Jean Encinas Franco, Associate Professor of Science Politics at the University of the Philippines.
“We have so much to lose”
A survey published by Pulse Asia suggests that 56% will elect Marcos Jr. as president, and he remains the most popular candidate across all age groups. Still, Franco believes Robredo’s campaign and the huge army of supporters he has attracted will have a lasting effect on politics in the Philippines, regardless of the election outcome.
Not only does Robredo’s passionate volunteers stand out, but also the impressive turnout at his rallies. The atmosphere of these meetings is festive, youthful and hopeful, adds Franco. “I haven’t seen this kind of rallies or this kind of support for any kind of politician since I started voting,” he says. “Now there is a critical mass. Whoever is president will have to deal with this part of the Filipinos actively engaged.”
For Ramírez, who has participated in two door-to-door campaigns and has attended three rallies, every possible vote counts. The elections can take the Philippines forward or “set us back even further and plunge the country into a state of hopelessness and rampant corruption.”
Whatever happens, she ensures that she will never again remain silent on political issues. “We have so much to lose this time…”
Translation of Maria Torrens Tillack